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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (3D Blu-ray Review)

14 Dec, 2013 By: John Latchem

$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper.

It’s one thing to mark the anniversary of a work that can be enjoyed as a product of its time. It’s quite another when that work spawns a multimedia franchise that continues to evolve its story to reach brand new generations.

For the dominant franchises, staying relevant to the audience can become problematic. Should producers continue to placate longtime fans by indulging in familiar elements, or try to appeal to a newer audience by not getting bogging down by the constraints of established lore. The best franchises always manage to find a way to accomplish both.

When “Doctor Who” first went off the air in 1989 after a 26-year run, it was widely considered a cult hit, but primarily a British cultural icon that had enjoyed a good run, extended no doubt by the innovative story technique of a main character whose alien nature allowed him to regenerate into a new body. The show’s revival in 2005 started with a focus on presenting the franchise to a new generation with stories that didn’t rely on connecting the new show to the old. Eventually, older elements began to be reintroduced, until finally the new Doctors completely embraced their heritage while continuing to add to the lore. As a result, “Doctor Who” is probably more popular now than it ever way, enjoying a status as a worldwide phenomenon way beyond what it ever achieved in its classic era.

With the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, the new iteration of the franchise finally answers a few lingering questions about the bridge between the old era and new, and in the process redefines some major aspects of the franchise going forward.

It starts with the short film The Night of the Doctor, released online in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 23 50th anniversary simulcast and included on disc. It features Paul McGann reprising his role as the eighth doctor from the ill-fated 1996 “Doctor Who” TV movie, and relates how The Doctor came to be involved in a devastating war between his people (the Time Lords) and the menacing Daleks.

McGann’s Doctor regenerates into a warrior played by John Hurt, a previously unknown iteration of the character who is seen in The Day of the Doctor contemplating the use of a doomsday weapon that will destroy his people and the Daleks, but save the universe from their conflict. The entity that controls the weapon senses his inner conflict, and allows him to see the man he becomes as a result by sending him on an adventure with his future selves, namely the 10th and 11th Doctors (David Tennant and Matt Smith, the previous and current actors to play the role).

What follows is a smashing blast of nostalgia both for fans of the classic era and those who came on board just in the past few years, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the three Doctors interact. There’s a particular joy in the return of Tennant, whose popularity in the role ranks near the top of all the actors to play The Doctor. But the real lessons are reserved for Smith’s Doctor, who sees a chance to correct a mistake that has haunted him for 400 years, and Hurt’s, whose final actions pave the way for how the character returned in 2005 in the guise of Christopher Eccleston, who declined to appear in the special.

Showrunner Steven Moffat’s run with the franchise has been marked by a penchant for exploring the dynamics of the Doctor’s time-traveling ways, and The Day of the Doctor excels at that, not only in a final sequence that fully embraces all the previous iterations of the character (and the ones to come), but also in the way each Doctor’s concluding story arc gives viewers an option of which episodes to watch next. Hurt’s exit makes it easy to rewatch the first season of the revival, Tennant’s leads to his final episode, and Smith’s sets the stage for the show’s future.

The special makes great use of 3D visuals, although the effect is most pronounced on the disc menu, which whisks viewers through the time vortex. The Blu-ray and DVD also include another online short, The Last Day, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the BBC special “Doctor Who Explained,” a 42-minute primer about the world of “Doctor Who.”

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